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Illinois Dairy Farm’s Waste Storage Gets a Makeover with USDA’s Help

NRCS District Conservationist Lewis Nichols (left) worked with Illinois rancher James “Jim” Johnson and his son Thad on a comprehensive nutrient management plan to best use manure on their land. USDA photo.

NRCS District Conservationist Lewis Nichols (left) worked with Illinois rancher James “Jim” Johnson and his son Thad on a comprehensive nutrient management plan to best use manure on their land. USDA photo.

A dairy cow can produce up to 140 pounds of manure in a day. So for James “Jim” Johnson, who owns 150 dairy cows on his Boone County, Ill. ranch, that means 7.7 million pounds of manure per year. Where does this manure go?

On many ranches, manure is stored and filtrated in a waste lagoon. But after a heavy rain in 2011 caused Johnson’s waste lagoon to overflow onto a nearby road, Johnson sought help to prevent it from happening again. In an effort to protect the quality of water and soil, he worked with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to find a solution.

NRCS assessed his operation and developed a comprehensive nutrient management plan. The assessment and plan helped Johnson to change his barns to properly handle the storage and flow of manure. Read more »

It All Starts with a Seed

AMS ensures that seed shipped in interstate commerce are labeled and advertised truthfully.  This allows seed buyers to make informed choices and promotes fair competition within the industry.

AMS ensures that seed shipped in interstate commerce are labeled and advertised truthfully. This allows seed buyers to make informed choices and promotes fair competition within the industry.

Believe it or not, food doesn’t come from the refrigerator or even the kitchen.  It doesn’t even come from the grocery store or the farmer.  All food—whether meat, grain, vegetable or fruit—owes its existence to seeds.  Seeds are the backbone of human existence, providing us with the fundamental necessities needed for life: food, clothing, medicine, and shelter.

To protect the quality of these important, yet often forgotten, natural resources and to promote a robust U.S. seed market (current value of over $7.3 billion), Congress enacted a program over a century ago that would later evolve into what is now known as the Federal Seed Act. The act, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Gastonia, NC, is a law that protects American businesses, farmers, and the general public from misrepresentation when buying seed. Read more »

An American Grown State Dinner – Featuring America’s Cut Flower Industry

Last week, President and Mrs. Obama hosted France’s President, Francois Hollande for a State Dinner on the South Lawn of the White House. State Dinners are a way to celebrate U.S. relations with international friends and allies.  Past dinners at the White House during the Obama Administration have hosted visiting heads of state from nations including India, Mexico, China, Germany, and Great Britain.  In many ways, these events are an opportunity to demonstrate and celebrate for invited guests and the world, the cultural and culinary heritages of our country.

The State Dinner last week was an excellent example, highlighting the diversity of American agricultural and rural products that our nation has to offer. The dinner celebrated the “best of American cuisine” and featured dry-aged rib eye beef from Colorado, trout from Maine, cheese from Vermont, chocolate from Hawaii, and potatoes from New York, Idaho, and California. The wines served at the dinner included excellent selections featuring California, Washington State, and Virginia offerings. However, beyond the menu itself an equally impressive feature was the visible presence of American cut flowers that decorated and added a stunning visual touch for guests at the White House. The floral arrangements displayed at the dinner included: Read more »

Passionate Couple, USDA, Team up for ‘Miracle:’ Bringing Back the American Chestnut

James and Gail Cope look out over their land in Kentucky. USDA photo.

James and Gail Cope look out over their land in Kentucky. USDA photo.

It was on a hilltop in eastern Kentucky where I first met James and Gail Cope, looking at the 27 newly planted American chestnut seedlings on their land. It was our common love for this rare tree that brought us together.

American chestnut trees once dominated the Appalachian landscape, but during the early 1900s a fungus struck the trees causing them nearly to vanish. The American Chestnut Blight, an Asian fungus, first struck in 1904 in New York City and quickly spread, leaving in its wake a trail of dead and dying stems.  By the 1950s, the keystone species of some nine million acres of forests had disappeared.

The tree is important because it produces bushels of nuts for wildlife, and animals like squirrels, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, black bear, and grouse depend on the nuts for a major food source. Read more »

Southeast Regional Climate Hub Works to Sustain Agricultural and Forest Systems

Southeastern Virginia marks the northern boundary of the natural range of longleaf pine forests, which once stretched along most of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains from Virginia to eastern Texas. Research aimed at finding the best seed sources to restore longleaf pine forests to southeastern Virginia area is also providing important clues for adapting forest ecosystems to changing climate.

Southeastern Virginia marks the northern boundary of the natural range of longleaf pine forests, which once stretched along most of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains from Virginia to eastern Texas. Research aimed at finding the best seed sources to restore longleaf pine forests to southeastern Virginia area is also providing important clues for adapting forest ecosystems to changing climate.

What a day! I am excited and nervous at the same time. Over the past nine months, hundreds of folks have been working together to make the opening of the USDA Southeastern Regional Climate Hub (SERCH) a reality, and today is the big day. SERCH meet world, world meet SERCH.

Now that we have formalities out of the way, what is SERCH? Well, SERCH is for you, if you are a landowner, rural resident, agricultural producer, researcher, policymaker, or anyone who is interested in sustaining the agricultural and forest systems on which we depend. Specifically, SERCH was born to help take decades of scientific research on natural resource disturbances related to weather and climate vulnerability, and convert those studies, data, and knowledge into practical management options for producers, forest owners and land managers across the Southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. Our region faces many types of disturbances, including wildfire, hurricanes, insects and diseases, and changing land use, just to name a few.  All of these challenges are impacted by climate change and weather variability. SERCH will use its enormous collective brain power and experience to develop ways to adapt to these disturbances. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: New Farm Bill is an Investment in Rural America

The 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress and signed last week by President Obama, strengthens the farm safety net and ensures vital nutrition assistance for hardworking children and families during tough times. It closes loopholes and achieves much-needed reform, saving billions of taxpayer dollars.

Those accomplishments are significant and should be commended, particularly at a time when bipartisan victories in Washington are so rare.

We have already started work on a plan to implement the new Farm Bill. However, many of its provisions are new and complex. As we have done every step of the way in helping to craft this legislation, we will work to keep Congress and our stakeholders informed as we identify and prioritize everything—new regulations, guidance and other activities—that will be required so that we can implement the legislation in an efficient, timely and responsible manner. Read more »